Ben Roberts-Smith tells defamation trial he’s disgusted by domestic violence claims
Australian war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith has denied punching a woman in a Canberra hotel room, telling a Sydney court domestic violence is “a disgusting act of cowardice”.
- An affidavit by Person 17 claims she was punched by Mr Roberts-Smith
- Mr Roberts-Smith felt “manipulated” by the woman
- A WhatsApp message shows Person 17 was urged to tell her husband her black eye was caused by falling down some stairs
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times newspapers, along with three journalists, over a series of articles published in 2018.
The 42-year-old alleges he was defamed by imputations including that he committed an act of violence against a woman, with whom he was having an affair, in a Canberra hotel room in March 2018.
Mr Roberts-Smith today told the Federal Court in Sydney he met the woman, referred to as “Person 17” due to a suppression order over her identity, in mid-October 2017 and began a relationship.
He had separated from his wife, Emma Roberts, towards the end of September 2017.
In March 2018, Mr Roberts-Smith took the woman to an event in Parliament House.
He told the court she became “extremely intoxicated” and fell down some stairs, leading to “a significant bump on the top of her left eye”.
Mr Roberts-Smith said she “wasn’t really coherent”, was “extremely unsteady on her feet” and “couldn’t really string words together”.
He said he took her to Hotel Realm, where she “completely passed out” and he left her on the bed with some ice for her injury.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, asked his client if he struck the woman.
“No, I didn’t,” he replied.
When asked about his attitude towards domestic violence, Mr Roberts-Smith described it as “deplorable” and “reprehensible”.
“My mother and father brought me up with a very good set of values,” he said.
“I respect women a great deal. I have no tolerance for anyone who would ever raise a hand to women.
“I find it a disgusting act of cowardice.”
In a Whatsapp message chain, Mr Roberts-Smith discussed the woman’s injury with her the next day and urged her to tell her husband she fell down some stairs while at an event with him.
He said the incident was “effectively the final straw” of their relationship.
In an affidavit, Person 17 claimed she was punched by Mr Roberts-Smith in the hotel room who then “coached” her in messages about how to explain a black eye to her husband.
She said in the document that she told police she did not wish to make a formal complaint, as she was “genuinely scared about my safety and that of my children if I am identified in the media”.
Mr Roberts-Smith today said the newspaper report about the alleged assault had “ruined his life”.
“For a long time, I found it very difficult to leave the house after that, just simply because I have such disdain for those types of people,” he said.
“To be labelled as someone like that and just have to wear that, it was very difficult.”
The court heard that before the Canberra event, Mr Roberts-Smith told Ms Roberts about the affair during a trip to Singapore in January the next year when the couple decided to try to work through their ongoing problems.
He told the court that in February 2018, Person 17 contacted him to let him know how hurt she was about the end of their relationship.
Not long after, she texted Mr Roberts-Smith to inform him she was pregnant, but he said after helping her arrange an appointment to terminate the pregnancy in Brisbane, he didn’t believe she was telling the truth.
Mr Roberts-Smith hired a private investigator, John McLeod, who filmed Person 17 at Greenslopes Hospital, where she claimed to have been having the procedure.
“I just wanted to know the truth,” he said.
“I felt I was being manipulated.”
Mr Roberts-Smith said Person 17 later admitted she’d lied about having the procedure, but then claimed to have had a miscarriage.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s case also alleges he was defamed by imputations that he “broke the moral and legal rules of war” on deployment in Afghanistan and bullied colleagues.
The former Special Air Services Regiment soldier has denied wrongdoing.
Nine Entertainment Co is relying on a defence of truth.